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EU, NATO worry about growing tensions in Bosnia

Monday, October 27, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium —  NATO and European Union leaders expressed concern Monday over increasing ethnic tensions in Bosnia, where Western troops have maintained the peace since a bloody civil war in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of people died in Bosnia's 1992-95 war, before the international community brokered a peace deal. Christian Orthodox Serbs fought to annex parts of the country to neighboring Serbia, while Muslim Bosniaks and Roman Catholic Croats fought to keep the country together and independent.

The peace agreement set up a state consisting of a Serb republic and a joint Bosnian-Croat entity.

Now political divisions are resurfacing. Bosniak leaders have accused the Serb republic as being "the result of genocide and ethnic cleansing" _ a description that Bosnian Serbs say is tantamount to branding all of them war criminals.

"We are certainly concerned by the political rhetoric, by what is being said by some politicians in Bosnia," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said after meeting Monday with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Solana echoed his comments, saying the political dispute was not contributing to Bosnia's goal of joining the European Union and NATO.

Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia's Serbian half, and his main rival, the current president of Bosnia, Haris Silajdzic, have clashed ahead of constitutional reforms scheduled for next year.

Silajdzic wants to abolish ethnic divisions in favor of a strong central government, while Dodik insists that Bosnia's two federal entities should have greater autonomy.

Dodik has frequently said the existence of his Serb republic is more important than Bosnia's survival or its plans to join the EU.

International observers warn that the heated rhetoric is leading to the reemergence of the sectarian suspicions that stoked Bosnia's civil war in 1992.

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO's deputy secretary general will travel to Bosnia to assess the increasing political tensions.

"We have to address (this) and we will," he said.

___

Associated Press reporter Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo has contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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